By Williamson Murray
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 2011
Online Publication Date:October 2011
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511996252.009
Subjects: Military history
In August 1914, a catastrophic war exploded on a European Continent, a continent that at the time seemed far removed from the travails of war, slaughter, and rapine that had marked earlier centuries. The ensuing conflict represented a watershed in European history, largely determining the erratic and murderous course of the twentieth century. While there had been a number of conflicts on the Continent in the 99 years between 1815 and 1914, none had come close to the violence, length, and destruction that the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars had caused. Nor had any of those wars approached the violence and ferocity of what was to come in the Great War.
Yet, the First World War did not represent a new phenomena in European history. In his classic On War, Carl von Clausewitz had accurately described the French Revolution's impact on Europe in the following terms:
[B]ut in 1793 a force appeared and beggared all imagination. Suddenly war again became the business of the people – a people of thirty millions, all of whom considered themselves to be citizens.…The people became a participant in war; instead of governments and armies as heretofore, the full weight of the nation was thrown into the balance. The resources and efforts now available for use surpassed all conventional limits; nothing now impeded the vigor with which war could be waged, and consequently the opponents of France faced the utmost peril.
War, untrammeled by any conventional restraints, had broken loose in all its elemental fury. This was due to the peoples’ new share in the great affairs of state; and their participation in turn, resulted partly from the impact that the revolution had on the internal conditions of every state and partly from the danger that France posed to everyone.